It's All About The Base...

No, I’m not talking about the booty, I’m talking about having a good endurance base. I personally have always had a pretty strong aerobic base but also understand that it’s important to invest time to ensure the base stays strong. For the past two years I’ve been digging deep into health and looking into why I have been experiencing more soft tissue injuries. More to come on that but it’s not mechanical… there is a deeper reason and I’m so glad that I’ve discovered the root cause versus spending more time with PTs, chiros, gait specialists, mobility training, etc.


Since I preach “health first performance will follow,” it’s important that I practice it as well. For the past year I’ve scaled back my training with my priority on health. I did limited run training for Boston. My Boston marathon was not fast and, for the first time, I didn’t re-qualify, but I finished with no health issues. I did a mountain bike race, did my first Xterra and two sprint triathlons. I was on the podium a few and not on others but I had fun and was really happy that my body could race.

The last race of the season was a last minute decision to do a sprint triathlon and I was not really prepared to race the run. Once I got out there I realized my body was not happy. My heart rate was abnormally high and I struggled to breathe. That has not happened in many years. I’m sure my poor swim (I actually panicked for some reason… again that hasn’t happened in a long time) contributed to the high heart rate on the run but I just ran to cross the finish line.

All this told me it’s time to go back to base training. I haven’t worn a heart rate strap in years because I always have chafing issues but it was time to pull it out. I love the MAF training method and advise many clients to invest some training time with the MAF method, particularly during the off season, to help with fat burning and strengthen the aerobic base.

What is the MAF method you ask? It stands for Maximum Aerobic Function and was created by Dr. Phil Maffetone. It’s an approach that allows the body to train and develop the aerobic base in such a way that the athlete will be able to run faster at the same heart rate. The heart rate is determined by age (180 minus current age) or by a metabolic test. The heart rate may seem low but it’s a heart rate where the heart and body can still maintain a healthy state with less dependence on glucose, less inflammation and less stress, resulting in fewer injuries. You can learn more about it here.

It’s not a permanent thing, but a temporary investment that can pay off for a long time. I did it in 2012 with a MAF heart rate of 138. My first MAF test had me running 10:20 to 10:40 minute miles. I was pretty sad and depressed about that but thought I would just trust the process. I trained for 3 months keeping my heart rate below 138. In my last MAF test, just 3 months after my first MAF test, my pace dropped to an 8:19 minute mile. I was very excited about my progress because I was training for my second Ironman (6 years after my first Ironman!) and if I could run at my MAF pace I would have a fast IM marathon. There are other success stories from much better athletes than me, like Mark Allen (aka “The Grip”). He started training with Phil Maffetone to try a different approach from “going as hard as he could” in every workout with the hope that he could finally beat Dave Scott (aka “The Man”) in the Ironman World Championship. He talks about his MAF training at a heart rate of 155 here. In the beginning his pace increased by three minutes to 8:15 minutes per mile. He was committed to the process and, after four months, his pace had improved to 5:20 minutes per mile! Here is more from Mark Allen on the benefits of MAF training.

Many athletes abandon the training because of frustration or impatience but it does work if done correctly. I’ve been doing it for 2 weeks now and have seen improvement by 1 minute (10:30 to 9:30). Slower than I have been running but it will improve as I continue with the training. I ran 9 miles last Friday and it felt like a breeze. I didn’t have any aches and pains after the run and this was the longest run I have done since the Boston marathon. One important thing to note is that the wrist heart rate is not reliable. I started my run and realized I had forgotten my HR strap. I went back and grabbed the strap but my Garmin was still tracking the wrist HR. I found I needed to walk often to get my heart rate below my MAF heart rate. I was ready to cut my run short but stopped the session on my watch and started a new session, making sure it was tracking from the strap. It was much lower and I was able to run 9 miles. Not planned but it just felt good to keep running!